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Comments on process guidelines for habitat rights still awaited from three states: Centre

New Delhi: The central government has slammed three state governments for not getting comments from them on the proposed process guidelines for determination and recognition of habitat rights of particularly vulnerable tribal groups (PVTGs).

In December 2019, the Ministry of Tribal Affairs wrote to the states of Madhya Pradesh, Chattisgarh and Odisha that it was still awaiting their response on the proposed process guidelines. The earlier letter was sent out on November 13, 2014.

“…and to state the comments of the state governments were sought on the proposed process guideline for determination and recognition of habitat rights of PVTGs. The comments from state governments are still awaited. It is, therefore, requested that requisite comments may be expedited please,” said the letter.

In 2014, the comments were sought from the states within 15 days. “The letter was an outcome of an ongoing hearing at the National Commission for Scheduled Tribes with regard to Chattisgarh. The state responses have been sought for this case. Currently, we are also in consultations with the Ministry of Law and Justice for the draft guidelines for the recognition of habitat rights,” said Deepak Khandekar, secretary, Ministry of Tribal Affairs.

The 2006 Forest Rights Act has provision for ensuring PVTGs to receive habitat rights and that their claims for habitat rights are filed before the concerned gram sabhas.

The Act also says that district level committees should play a pro-active role in ensuring that all PVTGs receive habitat rights in consultation with the concerned PVTGs’ traditional institutions and their claims for habitat rights should be filed before the concerned gram sabhas.

Odisha-based activist Y Giri Rao said, “Over a decade of the FRA being passed, the discussion on the habitat rights of PVTGs is starting now. The government is following up with the states on the issue after five years. This issue should be carried forward now. Otherwise, the PVTGs will continue to be disadvantaged.”

Habitat rights are no different from the rights of an urban citizen’s to basic amenities. What differentiates forest dwellers and urban dweller is the kind and nature of their respective habitats, pointed out Manish Chandi who works with Andaman Nicobar Environment Team.

The Forest Dwellers (Recognition of Forest Rights) Act, 2006 has successfully in many ways moved in the former direction, of recognition of those qualities that endear forest habitats to forest dwellers.

More importantly, it’s also the place they’ve called home for the longest time. Recognition of those rights to their habitat is as important as rights of each individual in urban areas. What has also been extremely problematic is of the various State Forest Departments trying to wean or forcefully evict forest dwellers by denying them those inherent rights enshrined in our constitution.

This has been a big problem for many many forest dwellers in India for rhe longest time. Very few States give adequate recognition and respect to rights of habitats to forest dwellers. This has to become universal…rest of humanity in this day and age, more than ever, have much to learn from such folk.

Under the FRA, ‘habitat’ includes the area comprising the customary habitat and such other habitats in reserved forests and protected forests of primitive tribal groups and pre-agricultural communities and other forest dwelling scheduled tribes.

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